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Monday, October 2, 2023
About the Book
Book: An Unexpected Gift
Author: Melissa Wardwell
Genre: Christian Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 29, 2023
Something’s up in Suamalie, and it’s looking like love!
When Kiana, Lulu, and Meilani decide it’s time for the islands to have affordable wedding options, Something Suamalie becomes the marriage of skills, friendship, and wedding splendor on the islands.
Cruising around the island on a Moped in a business suit may seem incongruous, but Kiana knows how to blend practicality and professionalism, a strong work ethic and relaxation. With no time for mistakes or or changes in plans, she’s also decided to forgo romance (for herself). There just isn’t enough time in the day. That is until the early arrival of one of the groomsmen of Something Suamalie’s first booking throws everything off balance, including her thoughts on long distance dating.
Beau was perfectly content with his job and the growing attraction to a girl back home; however, he hadn’t figured in the sassy and sometimes unprofessional wedding planner. Seeing her world begin to unravel while she and her partners fumble with their first weddings tugs at his heart strings and leaves him second guessing his choices in the romance department.
She’s a study in opposites. He’s attracted. So now what do they do?
Take a trip to the Suamalie Islands where palm trees sway, the sand and sea pulse with life, and the people will steal your heart.
Melissa Wardwell resides in Owosso, Michigan with her husband and three teen-aged children.
She doesn’t mind alternating between the world of writing and the reality of being a mother, but she would rather sit with a good book or a good friend and a cup of coffee.
When she isn’t penning works of fiction, she is busy reviewing books for her blog, Back Porch Reads.
More from Melissa
Weddings—some love them, some hate them, some love them but try to avoid them. Whatever the reasoning, we all have a strong feeling toward this life passage that so many have taken part in. We have our favorite moments, and we have our pet peeves, and like the snow flack that falls in the winter, none of them are ever the same. There might be similarities, but they are still not the same.
As for me, I LOVE WEDDINGS. They have been part of my life in a way that some find exciting, which they can be, but not from this angle. My mom was a consultant and seamstress in the bridal industry for most of my childhood until shortly before I graduated high school. In fact, that is how I also met my husband because his mother was a bridal seamstress alongside my mother. Not long after my wedding, I naturally obtained a job at a local bridal salon and worked there for almost ten years.
When I left the industry in 2010, it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I loved helping couples plan their big day. I have several fond memories of various brides whose stories stay with me to this day. And yes, a bridezilla is a thing, but she is not anyone you want to mess with because all the stereotypes are true. Thankfully, they’ve only been a couple that has ever crossed my path.
One of my favorite stories is about a bride who is anxious and overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done to plan the wedding. During one of her fittings, I noticed that she had some pretty severe acne breakout. She knew it was there, and it drove her crazy. “Not only am I stressed, I am now ugly,” she said, near tears. Before I let her leave the dressing room, I just talked to her about what she wanted for her wedding day and how it was different from what she was getting. She told me that she and her groom had initially planned to get married at their cabin in northern Michigan by the lake. Just them in a couple of friends. Instead, she was eyebrow deep in a wedding that was not hers. See, the groom was one of several sons with zero sisters. The mother-in-law had insisted on certain things happening that the wedding had taken on a life of its own, based on the mother of the groom’s vision.
I’m not one to stick her nose in a stranger’s business, but I did in this situation. My heart ached for this bride; she felt like she had no way out.
Looking at her in the mirror as I zipped up her gown, I said, “You know, all you need is a marriage license and a minister or a justice of the peace, and you can have the wedding you want.”
She laughed it off, and I laughed with her. I figured that was the end because it seemed to give her something else to think about as we laughed at the idea. Three weeks later, she came in for her final fitting. Remember, final fittings are done on the week of the wedding. The woman strolls in through the door of the bridal salon in marches back to the dressing rooms, where I am waiting with her go. Her smile lit up her face like a Christmas tree, she’d walked in confidently, and her acne had cleared up completely. Show her to the room, and before I close the door to let her slip into the dress before I come in and zip it up, I comment on how beautiful she looked. The bride put her purse down in the corner of the dressing room and turned to me, “we got married,” she said to me. I told her to get in her gown, and she could tell me the story in a minute.
Never in 1 million years would I have thought she would take my suggestion seriously. She informed me that the weekend after her last fitting, she and the groom went north to get away and pick up the marriage license from that county clerk’s office. They then decided to invite the local magistrate to their cabin, where he performed the wedding on their dock as the sunset over the lake. When I asked her about witnesses, she said they were good friends with the cabin next door, and those neighbors had just arrived at the same time as the magistrate. They agreed to sign as witnesses and watch the wedding from their dock. The couple had chosen not to tell anyone else what had happened, and I promised her that my lips were sealed as the rest of her bridal party came in to get their final fitting.
We sometimes make a big deal of the wedding day without considering what a couple wants. Sure, some things are almost a must if you’re having a large party. But for the most part, a wedding is about the couple and nobody else. If all the couple wants is to be married and spend their lives together, who can tell them what that should look like? I was proud of my bride for doing precisely what she and her groom wanted for their big day—small and simple. But I’m also glad they didn’t cancel everything to honor their friends and loved ones who planned to participate in their big day.
I am so glad to be back on the islands and reading another story that is light hearted, filled with faith and characters that I easily fall in love with. After reading several books from this author, I have noticed her writing style has increased in details and flows so smoothly throughout the book. It is something to watch the growth of a writer and see them blossom. This author has definitely achieved that.
The story is a great illustration of following your dreams and stepping out in faith. Kiana and her friends take the plunge and open their own bridal shop. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be married on a tropical island complete a with scenic background, cuisine native to the island and a wedding that any bride would be over the moon about? With opening a new business there will be a few hiccups. Kiana and her team find out way too soon. Venues that suddenly aren’t available, a bride’s mother who is difficult and a guest that is distracting make for an enjoyable adventure.
Kiana has other things on her mind as two men fill her head with confusion. First is the guy she has been texting back and forth. They have never met but their connection is undeniable. They get along well and look forward to each message sent. Kiana is starting to have feelings for him until a certain guest comes to the island.
Beau is there to help make the wedding smoother for his brother who happens to be the groom. He does seem a little bored until he steps up to help Kiana’s father with chores around their house. That made me like him even more because it showed what a big heart he has. The attraction between him and Kiana is there but something is holding them both back.
With a little take on a popular movie this story is fun, surprising and endearing. There is an emotional scene in the story that made me cry. Nothing warms my heart more than when someone blesses another. This gesture is beautiful in the story and opened my eyes to something. How many times have we missed an opportunity to help someone ? I loved this quote from the book, “Because when people we love are hurting, God gives us an opportunity to shine light in a dark world.” The author also gives us a reminder of how we need to learn to trust God with everything. He has a plan for each of us and Kiana and Beau find their path cross in a beautiful way. Oh my the ending is wonderful and surprising at the same time. I hate to say goodbye to Kiana and Beau but I know that God has big plans for them.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
Step through the looking glass. Slay the Jabberwock. Seek the King.
Alice is not prepared to face what awaits beyond the Tulgey Wood. When she and the rest of Team Heart enter the fourth and final Wonderland Trial, it’s up to her to lead them to victory. But this Trial is more than a game. If Alice and the others fail to defeat the Jabberwock and reveal the truth about Wonderland, more than points and fame will be lost.
Chess Shire never believed he’d make it this far. Now he’s stuck navigating a Trial he’s seen but doesn’t remember, all while searching for the brother he left behind. Not everything is as black and white as the game that shares his name. And if Alice discovers his deepest regret? Chess might just lose her too.
Apart, Chess and Alice scour the eight squares of the Heart Trial in search of memories, truth, and an Ivory King who seems more illusion than reality. Will they learn to lead together to face their greatest fears? Or will they remain pawns in a queen’s game, never truly seeing the Wonderland they’ve come to believe in?
Once upon a time, Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle. Now she spends her days homeschooling her three Jedi in training, braving the Arizona summers, and reminding her superhero husband that it’s it’s almost Christmas (even if it’s only January). Sara is the author of the Unblemished trilogy and Coral, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid that focuses on mental health. Her latest journey into the world of The Wonderland Trials feels like coming full circle after working for Disney. Sara loves fairy tales and Jesus, and she believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.”
More from Sara
“Step through the looking glass. Slay the Jabberwock. Seek the King.”
It’s my tagline for The Looking-Glass Illusion, but in truth, I had no idea what those words truly meant until I wrote the ending (and rewrote it several times).
I didn’t fully understand what the looking glass did or did not do—only that Alice had to step through it.
I didn’t know who or what the Jabberwock really was—only that Team Heart had to overcome it.
And I really couldn’t quite figure out this Ivory King character I had introduced in The Wonderland Trials—only that he was real, and that, somehow, the King would reveal himself in the end.
This is my process and it’s rather frustrating not to know what you’re up against. I wish I could outline and have all the answers ahead of time. I wish I knew every intricate detail about my stories. It would certainly make the writing life a lot easier. But I like to think the not-knowing part is God’s way of keeping me humble in all of this. Because I only discover the story and the true underlying theme of it all when He decides to reveal it to me.
So, in the name of revealing things, here are three truths God showed me through the process of writing The Looking-Glass Illusion.
Faith is not blind.
I think we can all remember the quote from The Santa Clause with Tim Allen that goes, “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” It encompasses the idea that we don’t have to see in order to believe. And while I believe this is true, I also think if we say our faith is blind, we’ve missed the mark.
God gives us every tool we need to base our faith on the truth in the Bible. He doesn’t ask us to walk blindly. He’s given us sight in His Word! And while we don’t know or see everything yet, we do have concrete evidence to stand on that what the Bible says is real.
In The Looking-Glass Illusion, Alice steps through the looking glass not knowing what awaits her on the other side. She does know, however, that The Adventurer’s Almanac her sister gave her has never steered her wrong. It’s guided her along the way, and she holds fast to it as she steps into the unknown.
I didn’t know how this book would end. But I do know that time and time again, God has walked with me through every ending to every book I’ve written. When I hold fast to that truth, I can have faith and the courage to move forward rather than let fear get the better of me. And speaking of fear . . .
Fear is a liar.Anyone who’s listened to Christian radio has probably heard the popular song “Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams. It’s a great song and I think we all need to hear it from time to time. Alice and her team have a multitude of fears to overcome. Chess Shire in particular has to overcome his fear of facing his past. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but the theme of overcoming fear is an overarching one in this duology. Perhaps I could have made it more complex and profound, but it’s really quite simple:Fear is a liar. And the only way to combat lies is to stand on the truth of what we know is real because . . .
The fairy tale is real.I am often asked why I choose to write fairy-tale-inspired stories. I like to turn back to my author tagline. While my logo and website design and even my bio have changed over the years, my tagline has remained the same:“Happily Ever After is Never Far Away”This is something I have held to from the onset of my author journey. While fairy tales may be but stories, our walk as Christians is in the living breathing fairy tale of God’s Word. Remember that quote from “The Princess Bride?”“Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”
That line always reminds me of the Bible. Everything we love about fairy tales can be found within the pages of His #1 Best-Selling Book. And it all really happened! The fairy tale is real, and no matter what dragons (or Jabberwocks) we face in this life, we are promised happily ever after (dare I say, Wonderland?) in the next.
Thank you for taking the time to sit a while with me and for sticking with this series through its conclusion. Cheers, and happy reading, Wonders! The true Wonderland awaits!
Before I start my blog I must mention the book cover. It is so intricately done and eye catching I had to give a shout out to whoever designed it. The cover matches perfectly with the story which is something I always notice. Now on to the conclusion of this series. I will recommend that you read the first book so you will understand the story better.
Chess and Alice are back to finish their quest . I have been waiting for this book and now that it is here, I don’t want to read to fast. I want to soak in every detail and follow along as they have an adventure that can only be described as thrilling. With riddles and mazes they must fight their way to the end.
Is it possible for the four Houses to come together and share power? Chess and Alice need to keep their guard up because I don’t think they are being told the truth. I liked how Chess questioned Scarlet’s power if this happens. Of course they are quick to say that “until someone new passes the Fourth Trial , Scarlet holds her title, position, and control.” So there is a catch I see. Hmm. What will our main characters do?
It’s a simple quest they say. All Chess has to do is find Alice, solve the riddle , slay the Jabberwock and find the king. I wonder what Alice is going to think when she hears what is expected of her? As Alice follows Celia to the cottage she tells her, “You can’t lose something that doesn’t belong to you.” Such wise words we should all remember. Being angry over something we think is ours only leads to distraction.
The author delivers a story with imagination that will satisfy those who adore fantasy books. I love how the author took my favorite fairy tale and made it into a story where danger, secrets, greed and faith abound. Heroes are clearly identified and the riddle will keep readers guessing. As a team bands together we witness how important it is to work with a common goal. The ending is everything I had hoped for and the author has made me fall in love with her exquisite writing style where imagination brings delight and hope.
“Where there is courage, there is always hope.”
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
Genre: Christian Historical Romance, Christian Western
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Gripping western romance and murder mystery set in Prescott, Arizona Territory in 1893.
Deacon Colter was happy in his job as the stockyard vet. But when his best friend asks him to work as a livestock inspector, he must confront his own obsessive-compulsive nature to support his friend. Even though he hopes for a family of his own one day, he believes that no woman will see past his quirks. Will he find a woman who can overlook his behavior to see his true heart?
Grady Thatcher waited six long years for justice for his parents’ murder. When a strange twist of fate puts him in a position to find the killers, he must decide if he will sacrifice his budding romance with one of the Harper sisters to pursue justice. Will he choose love over justice?
Lilian and Justine Harper were two sisters who moved to Prescott to escape the abusive men their father tried to pair them with. When Lilian meets Deacon Colter, she wonders if he could ever love someone with her past. Justine falls hard for Grady Thatcher. Yet she doubts if he truly loves her or if he befriended her only to get information about the men who killed his parents. Will Lilian and Justine find true happiness with the men they love?
Karen Baney is passionate about writing stories full of flawed characters. She enjoys weaving together stories of second chances, redemption, and overcoming personal trials. As a transplant to Arizona in the late 1990s, she loves researching the state’s history and finding ways to seamlessly incorporate real history and real settings into her novels. In addition to writing and speaking, Karen works as a Software Development Manager for a Christian ministry.
Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband, Jim, make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs, Bella and Daisy. Both Jim and Karen are active at Rock Point Church in Queen Creek, Arizona.
Visit Karen on the web at: www.karenbaney.com
More from Karen
What was the inspiration behind the Colter Sons Series?
The Colters (Will and Hannah) are the central characters from my first series, the Prescott Pioneers. For years, I have wanted to write stories about their children. I love the idea of writing many series about several generations of the same family.
Nothing came of the idea until I brought back a character, Joshua, from the Prescott Pioneers who fancied Hannah before she married Will. Joshua’s unrequited love led me to write a scene where he meets Hannah and Will again after eight years. To hit home the point that Hannah had everything he always wanted, I spontaneously wrote that she had five sons. Only a few sentences sparked the idea for the entire Colter Sons Series. (Joshua’s story is in Joy for Mourning, Book 2 in the Desert Manna Series).
Before I mapped out a series outline or developed the characters, I wrote the introductory chapters in the first person from each of the son’s point of view. Their personalities came to life, and I eventually fine-tuned that writing exercise in Chapter 1 for each of the books in the series.
Where does Deacon Colter fit into the series?
Deacon Colter is the fourth Colter Son, and his book is the fourth in the series. Since he was a very minor character earlier in the series, I refined some of his character traits. (Don’t worry, I write each book in a series to stand on its own, so you won’t miss anything.)
Out of all the Colter Sons, Deacon is the most socially awkward. What made Deacon special for me was that behind his looming, large exterior lies a soft heart and fierce loyalty for those who he cares about. When under stress, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies become harder to control.
Do you normally write a story with over two points of view? Why write the four points of view in The Resourceful Stockman?
Other than my very first series, The Prescott Pioneers, I usually stick with two points of view in my novels: the hero and the heroine.
However, earlier in the Colter Sons Series, I wrote that Deacon Colter became fast friends with Grady Thatcher, the younger brother of the woman who married Deacon’s older brother Sam (The Reluctant Cattleman, Book 1). When it came time to outline the story, I knew Grady’s story had to be told along with Deacon’s. Doing anything else would disappoint fans and leave the story feeling incomplete.
Grady’s quest to solve his parents’ murder provided the perfect catalyst to force the routine-loving, obsessive-compulsive Deacon outside of his comfort zone. Because he is fiercely loyalty, he risked much to help his friend.
Where did the idea for livestock agents come from?
I initially wanted to make Deacon and Grady Arizona Rangers. However, during my research, the timing and even some duties didn’t fit either of these men. I like to stay true to history. Rarely do I take creative liberty because I want readers to learn about Arizona history. Deacon and Grady’s ages put them about a decade before the Arizona Rangers formed.
So, I continued with my research about brand-burning and rustling. When I stumbled on an Arizona Territorial statute to create a Livestock Commission, complete with details on what the duties entailed, I had my answer. The timing and duties fit. Many livestock agents started as veterinarians or ranchers. They had the authority to hunt down the rustlers and deal with disease outbreaks. All this fit with my characters.
And, yes, everything in the novel about their jobs and the livestock commission’s start is true to history, except for the names of real people.
At first I wasn’t sure that I would like the format of this book. Each chapter goes back and forth between characters which made it hard for me to keep up with. As I began to understand the flow of the story, I began to really get to know each character better and enjoy the story. There is a definite faith element in the story which gives an illustration of forgiveness and trusting God.
I usually can say I like one particular character more than the other , however in this case each one brought an important piece to the story which fit together like a puzzle. Deacon and Grady are like brothers and look out for each other. It is funny how one thinks his friend rescued him but in reality they did that for each other. Their bond is built on trust and how Jesus brought them together to heal.
Grady still remembers when his parents were murdered and it replays in his mind constantly. Deacon is there to help him through his grief and takes a job with him even though it is out of his comfort zone. That is what friends do; they support each other and lay their lives down for each other.
The young women in the story have a tragic past. Their father treated them unkindly and placed them in dangerous situations. I must warn readers that there are sone sensitive subjects that may be uncomfortable for some to read. The author does do a good job of being attentive to how these subjects are presented in the story.
I enjoyed learning about livestock and how much work goes into taking care of them. Cattle can spread disease easily if not caught in time. Grady and Deacon have their hands full trying to track down where the spread of foot and mouth disease started and also stumble upon cattle rustlers. The story is a good western story with danger that kept me reading the story. I had to know who was behind the murder of Grady’s parents.
The ending is filled with adventure as Grady and Deacon close in on who has been behind stealing cattle and also the murders of Grady’s parents. I felt like I was watching a western on television with outlaws, gunshots and suspense. I enjoyed the story and was happy with the ending.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
As tragedy ravages the camp, can She’erah step up and complete the outpost?
She’erahs is a woman trying to leave her mark in a man’s world. Her vision and ability surpasses her father’s, yet she remains second-in-command as they are tasked to build Pharaoh’s outposts in Canaan. She knows she is worthy of the task, but her clan is skeptical.
The last place She’erah expects support is from her charioteer, but Lateef is the lone voice of encouragement. His integrity and steadfastness is a plumb-line in She’erah’s life and she can no longer deny her growing feelings for him.
Acts of sabotage threaten the construction and the shaky foundation of She’erah’s pride. It’s up to She’erah to break generations of rivalry, distrust, and jealousy—if she can learn to rely on the strengths and abilities of those around her to help.
Will she learn to trust God and others before her life’s legacy comes crumbling down around her?
Author of Biblical fiction, avid reader, pastor’s wife, Naomi loves reading the Bible and imagining how things were at the time. When she’s not serving in various areas at church, trying to stay on top of mountains of dishes or convincing her rescue dog, Freeway, to be cute on command for Instagram reels, you’ll most likely find her enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee. Naomi co-hosts #BehindTheStory with Naomi and Lisa, an author interview show on YouTube and your podcast platform of choice.
More from Naomi
A woman architect in ancient times?
She’erah’s family is mentioned in five verses in 1 Chronicles 7:20- 24. In this brief detour from the list of genealogy, we learn some interesting facts.
She’erah is the granddaughter of Joseph (yes that Joseph with the coat of many colors, vizier to Pharaoh)
Two of her brothers get themselves killed for cattle rustling.
Her father, Ephraim, goes into deep mourning for his sons.
There is a late-in-life baby (as a result of dad’s mourning)
and She’erah built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen She’erah.
Then we are right back to the begats.
Wait, hold on. That’s all we get? What is the story behind her building these towns (two of which are still standing today)? What was the reaction of those around her?
Something I find helpful to remember is that when you know about someone’s family, you in a way know the person. With her grandfather being Joseph, suddenly we have opened a whole new world of what we know. She’erah and the clan would have had access to all of Egypt’s knowledge and resources. Where she still might have gotten backlash from her more Hebrew clan, Egyptian women had more independence, managing their husband’s estates, or even their own.
We also know the generational legacy that was passed down of the younger sibling being favored above the older. Ephraim over Manasseh, Joseph over his ten elder brothers, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Isaac over Ishmael. I’m sure sibling rivalry could have been present.
So now we can see She’erah’s picture a little more clearly. A brilliantly minded woman determined to prove herself and her abilities. Raised in Egyptian courts, yet also Hebrew. A strange mix of cultures and dynamics that shape She’erah and nurture her gifts.
She’erah’s legacy is not only the towns she builds for generations to come, but also how she starts the work of unearthing the deep-seated rivalry that is entrenched in her family.
I pray you’ll enjoy She’erah’s adventures, as she learns to trust the Lord and those around her.
There is only one verse in the Bible about She’erah so I was very intrigued by this book. We do know that she built towns but how? The author takes us back in time and answers the what ifs as we journey with this woman who was the granddaughter of Joseph. Her lineage is impressive and I decided that I had to read how the author interprets this woman and her contributions.
With the threat of war and land being taken She’erah offers suggestions that are quickly shut down by her father. It was such a harsh tone it felt like he had slapped her in the face. It is evident that our leading lady is not respected but she has such a desire to help. I did appreciate her father standing up for her when one of the laborers protest her orders. It is going to be a long journey for She’erah I believe.
There are some sad moments in the story as two of She’erah’s brothers go against their father. The consequences are devastating and will affect many throughout the land. I felt so sorry for her mother as she grieves a great loss. The author does a good job of seeing what it may have been like during this time period. She’erah is a strong woman which some don’t approve of.
I liked learning about the family and how sins from the past can affect those now. It is a generational curse that She’erah is under and she needs to be able to break that in order for her to achieve her goals. I understand very well about generational curses. If we don’t stand strong and ask God to help us those curses can follow for generations. I admire She’erah for taking that stand while encouraging her father not to blame himself for the evils that have come upon them.
Examples of jealousy run rampant throughout the story as family members start to bicker with each other. Who is really in charge? That question is what brings this story to an interesting look at the dynamics of a family. Pride, greed, unforgiveness and power are planted in the family as She’erah tries to make others see the truth.
I did enjoy the relationship between She’erah and Lateef. He is a hard worker and very humble. I think sometimes She’erah was a bit pushy towards him. He wants to honor her but she does make it difficult at times. It is easy to say that She’erah is a strong woman who has no problem sharing her thoughts. Will Lateef return the same feelings for She’erah ?
The most critical relationship to me was between She’erah and her brother. Both are stubborn and want to be in charge. I’m sure it grieved their parents to witness their continuous disagreements. If only they can find a way to work together, then things would go smoother. She’erah will come to a point where she starts to feel like a failure. A very wise man will guide her to where she will seek the Lord. I loved this part of the story because it reminds us to keep out eyes on God and remove any jealousy and pride from our lives.
I really learned a lot in this story where sometimes we take our focus off of God and try to do things on our own. It is not easy to admit our sins, but when we do freedom comes. Don’t miss this emotional story that shares unconditional love and forgiveness that will go for generations to come.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.